Don't kill the dogs in Below

The dogs in Below aren't vicious or dangerous. They'll follow you around and are downright cuddly, as long as you don't hurt one. Still, most players try to kill the dogs the second a pack appears, Capy founder Nathan Vella said during a demo of Below at Gamescom.

"Everybody wants to kill the fucking dogs," Vella said. "Everybody who plays the game, they think everything is an enemy, but the bats are just bothering you, the dogs are just hanging out. They might catch your scent and they might want to follow you, but they're not really going to mess with you."

Killing the dogs does give your character meat, an item that provides a health boost. So, sure, kill the innocent, adorable dogs if your character is feeling a little peaky. Sure.

Below's world is an exploration in subtlety and broken preconceptions. The game offers no direction, no numbers and only five lines of text in the minimalistic menu: Use, Drop, Exit, Combine and Set. You wander vast caves and discover pieces of a larger, seemingly supernatural, narrative along the way, though this process takes time and patience. Capy wants to tell the story "by putting players in situations where they're going to wonder things."

"They're going to ask themselves questions," Vella said. "You end up on a beach, nothing there to really worry about. There's a giant ship that's really big, it's broken up, so why was the ship there? Obviously, humans drive ships and there's obviously other humans, at some point, that arrived. Did they crash? Did they come there on purpose? Why? How? When?"

This type of slower, introspective experience can alienate players used to "Press A to jump" instructions and traditional stories. Below is a game for a specific audience, just as Capy's previous game, Sword & Sworcery was, Vella said.

"When we made Sworcery, we really thought, 'This is for a small group of specific people. We're going to make it exactly for them, and we're part of that group. So we'll basically just make this game that we want to make, put everything we can into it and see what happens,'" he said. "We were honestly like, 'About 50,000 people buy this game. There's gotta be 50,000 people who really like this stuff.' And we were off by a huge number."

The epiphany that a large number of people were into the weird, niche games that excited Capy developers spurred the company to create Below. It's a roguelike with procedurally generated dungeons, secrets and a touchy bleed-out system. Even a small scratch can eventually kill your character. Below requires wits, perseverance and curiosity. And time.

"We know that this is going to rub some folks the wrong way," Vella said. "And that's totally fine."

Vella compares the procedurally generated dungeons in Below to a river dotted with heavy rocks. The river flows, water constantly shifting, while the boulders stay still. Players will encounter different dungeons in each of their playthroughs, but the important rooms are static and can be found by traveling the same path that winds through ever-shifting environments.

Vella said that sometimes he gets lost while demoing Below, but he always knows how to find his way back on track: "I know that if I enter the dungeon, and I go over left, left, left, left, that I can get to this beach. I know that's never going to change. And I know that if I find doors with a certain marking or I listen to a certain sound, I know that if I follow that it's always going to bring me to the same place. No matter how the dungeon around it has shifted, those are the rocks in that river."

Below has a clear narrative, but it's not told in clear terms. Each player will interpret the settings, beasts and objects differently, leading to thousands of individual stories for Below. There's a reason the character is traveling through caves and encampments deep underground, to depths below the oceans, Vella said. But that reason doesn't really matter – what matters is each player's experience and the stories they tell themselves, he said.

[Image: Capy]